Managers start to embrace home working

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Most managers, if asked, would probably say they still prefer to be able to see the team they are managing. But, in an increasingly wired and global environment, the days of insisting workers are physically present in the office do look numbered, according to new research.

The number of people "teleworking" from home has risen dramatically over the past few years, the survey by the UK Confederation of British Industry and recruiter Pertemps has concluded.

Almost half of the more than 500 employers polled said they now offered teleworking to staff, a dramatic increase from the 14 per cent reported two years ago and 11 per cent in 2004.

The snapshot echoes the experience of employers in the U.S and Canada, where a survey of 2,700 employers earlier this month by World at Work found that teleworking had soared in popularity over the past 12 months.

More than four out of 10 U.S firms and a similar percentage in Canada now offered teleworking, though how many workers actually took the offer up remained a moot point.

Similarly, a survey by the public-private teleworking partnership Telework Exchange in June argued that allowing employees to work from home just two days a week could save the U.S economy more than $38bn a year in reduced gas bills.

The cost and hassle of commuting was a key factor in the growth of telecommuting on this side of the Atlantic too, found the CBI poll.

Motivations for agreeing to this sort of flexible working included managers trying to cut their carbon footprint, reducing commuting times and overcoming poor transport links.

Other types of flexible working had also shot up in popularity, particularly term-time working, job sharing, career breaks and sabbaticals.

John Cridland, CBI deputy director-general, said: "The boundaries of the traditional nine to five in the office or on the shop floor are becoming more and more blurred.

"Employers are embracing the benefits of flexible working, even as the economy heads into more uncertain times," he added.

Teleworking also had an important role to play in helping workers balance their family commitments, he argued.

"As technology becomes more reliable and widely available, this trend can only grow," he said.

Another intriguing finding from the survey was the growth of flexible retirement, possibly because of worries about the credit crunch and pension provision.

In the past year nearly a third of employees reaching retirement age had asked if they could postpone their retirement, with eight out of 10 requests agreed to.

"Many older workers do not want to retire, or do not feel financially secure enough to do so, particularly with the downturn in the housing market. In the majority of cases employers are very happy to retain older staff, who often have invaluable skills and experience," said Cridland.

Another finding was that a third of the employers polled had now voluntarily conducted an equal pay audit.

And while employers said they were genuinely committed to diversity, nearly two thirds said a lack of applicants from disadvantaged groups remained the biggest obstacle to creating a more diverse workforce.

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